I was really, really, pretty irrationally convinced that HEARTS OF DARKNESS would blow my mind. I ended up begging the author for a review copy and then haunting my mailbox while I waited for it to arrive. It had the Dear Author stamp of approval, the Meljean Brooks endorsement, people were comparing it to Karen Marie Moning's Fever series. I was soooooo excited.
Turns out, I didn't really like the book. But having begged the author for a copy, and gotten one - in the mail! at her expense! - I just don't have the heart to exorcise my disappointment in a review. So let's just talk about what the book is, what it isn't, and who's going to like it. Because I bet a lot of people will! It's got many qualities that many other readers will latch onto. Just not me.
So. HEARTS OF DARKNESS is the first in the Deadglass trilogy. It's a paranormal romance (not urban fantasy) with an overarching conflict that will span multiple books but, at least in this first one, ends with an HEA for the heroine and her love interest. It's set in an alternate universe Seattle, where the gate to the Land of the Dead has been cursed and weakened. Ghosts and wraiths have destroyed much of the city's infrastructure while the two biggest factions of supernatural beings - the Kivati (Native American inspired shape changers) vs. the Drekar (Norse-derived dragon-shifters) - have been fighting for control of the city for upwards of a century.
The worldbuilding is pretty great and has tons and tons of potential. The Kivati and the Drekar are culturally distinct and there's potential for something more complex than a "good vs. evil" battle to emerge through the trilogy.
As for the plot and the characters...I think this is where I part ways with the majority of the PNR readers out there. The heroine, Kayla, is a nurse and healer. She wants to think the best of everyone. She shines when she's caregiving, when she's extolling the importance of trust and faith and love, and her acts of heroism are of the self-sacrificing variety - as, for example, in Chapter 2, when she barrels into a duel to the death to body block the losing party and plead for his life.
I'll tell you all a secret: I do not like this type of character. I just don't. But if you do, you will love Kayla.
Now, here's something I didn't understand. It bothered me a lot. Kayla has arrived in Seattle to identify her dead sister's body. The death was attributed to a drug overdose, but Kayla can smell the cover-up a mile away, and she's determined to figure out what really happened (my initial impression was that I was reading the Fever series, if the sisters' deaths had been reversed and smart, together Alina was investigating Mac's death). The sister left a note for Kayla telling her she should give the "key" to "Corbette". While Kayla is examining her sister's body, a bunch of big, aggressive men show up. One of them is Hart, who doesn't explain who sent him. The others, on the other hand, are clear about being Corbette's henchmen. And they really, really don't like Hart.
So Kayla has this dying wish from her sister, which she's determined to carry out...but then she decides the best way to go about it is to enlist Hart's help. Because clearly the guy who's an enemy of Corbette's people will help her deliver the key to Corbette? Hart doesn't flat out say, "By the way, I'm working for Corbette's arch-nemesis, and if I get my hands on this key there's no way in hell I'd deliver it to Corbette, because I'm on the OTHER SIDE," but he shouldn't really have to, should he?
Hart, by the way, is our hero. He's a werewolf and he's enslaved to one of the book's villains, Sven Norgard. The slavery comes with a magical compulsion to obey all of Norgard's orders, so Hart has no choice but to betray Kayla in some pretty serious ways, even though he's falling for her. It's up to Kayla to see through all the horrible things he's forced to do and recognize the good man he could be, to reach out a hand and help him change.
Again, I can see how a lot of people will go bonkers for a redemption story of this kind. And if you're hankering for a book with a werewolf hero who's growly and possessive before his human brain really cues into what's going on, the kind of rough around the edges hardened hero who just wants to protect his woman...Hart is probably right up your alley.
So, hey. There's plenty here for people to like. And I hope the readers who will dig this story find it. But I will briefly cover a couple of issues that turned me off, just to help other people who won't like the book not buy it:
- Kayla's trusting nature also made her unquestioning - as, for example, in her failure to wonder who Hart was loyal to - which puts her in jeopardy repeatedly over the course of the novel. Drove me batty.
- She's handicapped by her ignorance of the supernatural world and while her supernatural powers are potent, they're not offensive. As a result, she's something of a damsel in distress; she needs to be saved and rescued more than once.
- A lot of the villains in this book have "rape" on speed-dial; it's their favorite crime, and all the major female characters in this novel are sexually abused, to various degrees. The abuse is meant to repel and disgust, which it does, but at some point I'd just had my fill of being repelled and disgusted by the villains and their raping.
- On the flipside, Hart and Kayla are overwhelmed by lustful thoughts for one another at the most inappropriate times. I'm sure some people would call their chemistry scorching but, personally, I was gobsmacked when, for example, Kayla and Hart make out in the wake of an emotionally and physically devastating battle.
Alright. That's it. Hopefully I straddled the barbed wire fence between "kind" and "honest". Or at least succeeded in giving credit where credit was due and not being mean. Sigh.